The Red Badge of Courage (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
The Red Badge of Courage is a novel in which Henry Fleming, “the Youth,” struggles with the question of whether he will fight or run when he sees his first real battle. After it begins, he stands firm for the first charge, then runs when the Confederate forces charge again. He is ashamed, wishing he had a bloody bandage, a “red badge of courage.” Eventually, he returns to his outfit and becomes an obsessed fighter.
This book was first attacked when it was removed from the American Library Association list of approved books in 1896. However, its removal was more of a response to author Stephen Crane than to the book itself. As Crane was writing The Red Badge of Courage, he published Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a gritty, realistic look at life in New York’s slums that brought many calls for censorship against Crane. Also, Civil War veterans objected to a young man with no military experience writing detailed battle accounts. Nevertheless, the novel enjoyed a sustained popularity, occasionally being objected to by religious or antiwar and antiviolence groups. In 1985, for example, the superintendent of schools in a Florida community banned The Red Badge of Courage for profanity because it used the word “hell.”
Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Examines style,...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Camp. Encampment of Henry’s regiment where the novel opens. Although the regiment has only been lodged there for a few months, the novel’s initial location seems to Henry to be “sort of eternal camp.” In the opening paragraph, as a fog clears to display the awakening army, roads “grow” in the distance from “long troughs of liquid mud.” The shore of a nearby river is occupied by the enemy, whose campfires glow by night on the ridges of low hills. Sometimes pickets posted as sentries on opposite banks shoot at one another; however, at other times they converse peaceably, their enmity set aside.
The regiment’s lodgings are log-walled huts roofed with folded tents. Cracker boxes serve as furniture, grouped around fireplaces whose chimneys—crudely compounded out of clay and sticks—are inefficient, with the effect that the atmosphere inside each hut is foul with smoke: an omen of the battlefield to come.
Henry’s home. Henry remembers life on his widowed mother’s dairy farm as an endless round of trudging between the house, the barn, and the fields. He recalls that after enlisting he went to say good-bye to his admiring schoolmates, and that as he walked away from the seminary, along a path between two rows of oaks, a girl watched him from a window; his subsequent journey by railroad to Washington, D.C., seemed to be a hero’s triumph because of the manner in which...
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Memoirs of the Civil War
The war literature of the Civil War era glorified heroism and the courage of soldiers on both sides of the war. The numerous memoirs of war veterans influenced Crane, who had a lifelong obsession with war. He drew upon the common pattern of these chronicles for the major plot elements in The Red Badge of Courage: the sentimental expectation of the young recruit moved to enlist by patriotic rhetoric and heroic fantasies of war; the resistance of his parents to his enlistment; his anxiety over the apparent confusion and purposelessness of troop movements; his doubts about his personal courage; the dissipation of his heroic illusions in the first battle; his grumbling about the incompetency of generals; and other such motifs, incidents, and situations.
Image Pop-UpBattle of Chancellorsville
The editors of Century Magazine published Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, one of Crane's primary sources in writing The Red Badge of Courage. The editors hoped to foster mutual respect for both armies, focusing on the bonds forged by soldiers in the field rather than the horrors they endured. Crane's novel challenged these popular tales, which often featured heroes on the battlefield rewarded by the love of an awed heroine at home. In the book, Henry Fleming has...
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Point of View
The book is told in third-person from a young recruit's point of view and is a series of sensory impressions and dialogues between the soldiers. Henry Fleming, the main character, is anxious to understand what the other soldiers are feeling: Will they run during fire? Are they as scared as he? He misses his routine of milking the brindle cows at his family's farm. His comrades, Wilson, a vociferous solider who brags about "licking" the enemy, and Jim Conklin, who warns that there will be a big battle, serve to accentuate the young man's innocence. He is impatient to see action in battle, without really knowing what it is all about. When Henry asks the loud soldier if he will run from battle if he is scared, he answers, laughing at the boy, "I'll do my share of the fightin'." The actual skirmish kills half the regiment and gives Henry a head wound, ironically, by a fellow Union soldier. He is ashamed, however, that he ran from the ferocious gunfire and fears shame when returning to the troops. When his comrades believe his pretense that his wound was inflicted in battle, he becomes a renewed person and heroically seizes the Union flag from a dead soldier and advances to his personal victory.
Critics acknowledge Crane as an exceptional artist, with superb skills in imagery, metaphor, similes, and irony. He has even been referred to as a Symbolist in the tradition of the French...
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In preparation for writing The Red Badge of Courage, Crane studied the Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady and illustrations by painter Winslow Homer and drew on his own highly empathic imagination. The writers Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford, Crane's good friends in England, claimed that Crane subscribed to the impressionistic literary movement and strictly observed the canon of impressionism: "render; never report." By means of his sharply etched and poetic images, Crane hoped to help his readers feel as if they were actually on a battlefield. For example, Crane describes the wounded enemy standard-bearer behaving as if he had "invisible ghouls fastened greedily upon his limbs" as he tries to escape with his flag; Crane also renders a vivid image of the dirt and smoke assaulting the regiment: "Wallowing in the fight, they were in an astonishingly short time besmudged . . . Moving to and fro with strained exertion, jabbering the while they were, with The Red Badge of Courage their swaying bodies, black faces, and glowing eyes, like strange and ugly fiends jigging heavily in the smoke."
Ending The Red Badge of Courage was difficult for Crane, The professional writers among his friends marveled at how rapidly he produced his work, whether prose or poetry, and how rarely he revised what he had written. But three attempts to bring his second novel to a close were required, and even then he probably was not satisfied. Although he...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
The Red Badge of Courage has long been ranked as an American classic and is standard fare in high school and college literature courses. This means that it is possible that many members of a discussion group will not only have read the book, but will have discussed it in the classroom. Thus, presenting the book as something fresh would be important for a discussion group. Most classroom discussions are likely to have emphasized the book's many "literary" qualities, such as its symbolism or its impressionistic use of colors; less likely to have been discussed is the novel's storytelling, plot, and popular appeal, By looking at how the novel capture's its readers' attention and then carries them along in an action-filled plot, a discussion group could open new avenues of interest for those who think they are bored with the novel. By focusing on the qualities of the narrative itself, a group may manage to focus the divergent points-of-view of those who have had other experiences with the book in classroom discussions.
It would be of considerable value to most readers to uncover why the novel has captured imaginations of readers for over a hundred years, as well as to discover why it is a virtually undisputed masterpiece of American literature. Its placing of events in one of the central turning points of the American experience — the Civil War — probably accounts for some of the interest it holds for readers. Another aspect that may account both...
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Compare and Contrast
1860s: The Southern cotton states, in a pro-secession move to protect their slave-based economy, formed The Confederate States of America. When the Civil War ended, the Industrial Revolution began in the U.S., and "King Cotton" was replaced by the growth of manufacturing in the South.
1890s: With increased industrialization, labor strikes, such as the 1892 Homestead Steel strike and the 1894 Pullman railroad strike, erupted; a financial depression takes place between 1892 and 1894.
Today: Labor strikes continue in transportation, civil service, and other sectors; financial insecurities exist among employees in downsizing corporations. The federal government must reduce a multi-billion dollar deficit, yet the stock market continues its strong performance.
1860s: The American Civil War pits brother against brother, Southerner against Northerner. About 90,000 Confederate and 93,000 Union soldiers died, more men, in proportion to population, than the British and French lost in World War I.
1890s: The sinking of the Maine ignites the Spanish-American War of 1898, which is won by the United States.
Today: The U.S. is experiencing a period of peace and relative prosperity. The Cold War with the...
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Topics for Further Study
Compare the attitudes of individual soldiers in Crane's battle scenes in The Red Badge of Courage with the attitude of individual Southern soldiers in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.
Research the literary tenets of naturalism, realism, and existentialism in books by French and Russian authors as well as American.
Study the Battle of Chancellorsville and compare it to the fictional rendition of this battle in The Red Badge of Courage.
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The battle of Chancellorsville in northern Virginia, waged from May 1 to May 3, 1863, seems to have been Crane's model for the fictional battle in The Red Badge of Courage. The action of the novel follows that of the original conflict — a Confederate victory — quite closely. Chancellorsville is not mentioned in the novel, nor is General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker, the leader of the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. At one point in the novel, though, Crane does name the Rappahannock River, which separates the two armies. The real setting of The Red Badge of Courage, however, is the consciousness of Henry Fleming. The battle, his fellow Union soldiers, and the landscape are all seen through his eyes. His attitudes, which change frequently, determine what he and the reader see.
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Crane's novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets depicts the embattled lives of people surviving in the New York inner city and the brutalizing effects of poverty, ignorance, and drunkenness on their lives. The book has been labeled a work of naturalistic fiction; like £mile Zola, a nineteenth-century French naturalist writer, Crane suggests that people are victims of their environments.
Following up on the success of The Red Badge of Courage, Crane wrote The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War (1896). Possibly the most interesting story in this collection is "The Veteran," which shows Henry Fleming as an old man. When a barn catches fire, old Henry rescues a drunken hired man who set the fire; when Henry returns to the burning barn to save some colts, he becomes trapped and dies.
In "The Monster" (1898), a story similar to "The Veteran," Crane depicts a community's reaction to a disfigured man in its midst. In the story, a black man badly burns himself while saving a young white boy from a burning house; although the townspeople initially proclaim him a hero, they eventually brand him a monster. The renowned black American writer, Ralph Ellison, called "The Monster" the first story in American literature to feature a black man as a hero.
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The Red Badge of Courage was made into a motion picture in 1951 by John Huston, who both directed the film and wrote the screenplay. It starred Audie Murphy, the most decorated American hero in World War II, as Henry Fleming, and also featured Bill Mauldin, Royal Dano, and John Dierkes. In 1974, Lee Philips directed an adequate television movie version of the novel starring Richard Thomas as Henry.
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The Red Badge of Courage was adapted as a film by John Huston, starring Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, and Andy Devine, Universal, 1951; available from MCA/Universal Home Video.
Image Pop-UpFilm Adaptation
The Red Badge of Courage also appears on an educational video, with a number of different interpretations of Crane's masterpiece; produced by Thomas S. Klise Company.
There is an abridged recording of the book, narrated by actor Richard Crenna, and published by Listen for Pleasure, Downsview, Ontario, 1985. Two audio cassettes, 120 minutes, and Dolby processed.
The sound recording of the complete, unabridged version of The Red Badge of Courage, narrated by Frank Muller, is available from Recorded Books, Charlotte Hall, MD, 1981. Three audio cassettes, 270 minutes.
A sound recording with a lecture by Warren French on The Red Badge of Courage, published by Everett/Edwards, Deland, FL, 1972. One audio cassette, 38 minutes.
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What Do I Read Next?
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque concerns a young German infantryman's experience in World War I.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger relates in first-person the story of a adolescent in New York City and his ironic, and comic, views of life.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell tells the saga of a young woman's life during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods in the South.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Joseph Hergesheimer, "Introduction" 'The Red Badge of Courage', 1895-1924," in The Work of Stephen Crane, Vol. I, edited by Wilson Follett, 1925. Reprint by Russell & Russell, 1963, pp ix-xvm.
Donald Pizer, "Nineteenth-Century American Naturalism: An Essay in Definition," Bucknell University Review, Fall, 1965.
Robert Shulman, "Community, Perception, and the Development of Stephen Crane From 'The Red Badge' to 'The Open Boat'," in American Literature, Vol. 50, No. 3, November, 1978, pp. 441-60.
R.W. Stallman, "Introduction" in The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War, by Stephen Crane, The Modern Library, 1951, pp. v-xxxvii.
R.W. Stallman, Stephen Crane, an Omnibus, New York: 1952.
Charles Child Walcutt, "Stephen Crane: Naturalist and Impressionist," in his American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1956, pp. 66-86.
Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore: Studies in the literature of the American Civil War, 1962 New York: Norton, 1994.
George Wyndham, "A Remarkable Book," in New Review, Vol. XIV, No. 80, January, 1896, pp. 30-40.
Maurice Bassan, editor, Stephen Crane: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1967.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Examines style, technique, narrative method, and psychological aspects of Crane’s novel. Places the novel in the epic tradition.
Cazemajou, Jean. “The Red Badge of Courage: The ‘Religion of Peace’ and the War Archetype.” In Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, edited by Joseph Katz. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1972. Finds a balance in the novel between a metaphoric view of war as chaos and confusion, and a view of a world at peace. War and peace function more as archetypes than as realities in the novel.
LaFrance, Marston. A Reading of Stephen Crane. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Identifies Crane’s genius not in creating literary naturalism, but rather in his psychological portrayal of Henry Fleming. Praises Crane’s use of third-person limited point of view.
Mitchell, Lee Clark, ed. New Essays on ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’ New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Traces the novel’s evolution; concludes that the original draft served as an outline to be expanded into the 1895 version. Identifies Crane’s abstraction of the Civil War from its historical context as a distinctive contribution to American literature.
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